Uncomfortable choices for the British ruling class

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When Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, visited Sudan to make humanitarian speeches this was not met with universal acclaim. "After two and a half years of rule by Mr Straw and his allies, Iraq and Afghanistan were declared the two most lawless places on earth by a risk-assessment company. And Mr Straw lectures Khartoum on keeping order in Darfur!" commented Simon Jenkins (The Times 25.8.04), illustrating the irritation felt by the British ruling class at both the paucity of the benefits it has gained from its 'special relationship' with the US and the performance of its government.

The difficulty experienced by the British bourgeoisie in pursuing its interests on the world stage is highlighted by a series of scandals, particularly those around the entry into the Iraq war alongside the USA: the dodgy dossier, the false claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes, the death of David Kelly and the subsequent Hutton enquiry. That obvious whitewash had to be followed up by the Butler Report to maintain any semblance of the search for the truth. Then the scandal about torture and degradation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib by US soldiers, and the efforts made to dissociate Britain from this. Lastly, we have seen a new scandal exposing Mark Thatcher, son of a former Prime Minister, for his role in funding a botched coup. While we do not know what Machiavellian forces within the bourgeoisies of Britain, USA or Spain led to the plug being pulled on an operation well known to the CIA and MI6, it clearly illustrates the uncomfortable situation faced by the Blair government.

The bourgeoisie are very good at using their difficulties and divisions to bolster the democratic myth that governments can be held to account, as the coverage of the Butler Report shows. After Hutton we said "calls for new inquiries feed the illusion that somehow there are figures capable of conducting investigations with their only goal being the disinterested uncovering of the truth. In reality, all the inquiries are entirely within the framework of bourgeois politics. Or take the example of the intelligence services. Critics of Blair say that intelligence was perverted for political ends, as if the secret state wasn't an integral part of the bourgeoisie's apparatus of repression, which only exists to serve the needs of the ruling class" (WR 272). We did not expect Butler to discover that Britain was engaged in an imperialist attack on Iraq for reasons of national interest with no humanitarian concerns, nor that such wanton destruction will only end with the overthrow of capitalism.

The results of the Butler Report were summed up in The Independent as "The intelligence: flawed. The dossier: dodgy. The 45-minute claim: wrong. Dr Brian Jones: vindicated. Iraq's link to al-Qa'ida: unproven. The public: misled. The case for war: exaggerated. And who was to blame? No one." The Butler Inquiry was set up to exonerate, to the extent that the opposition parties refused to participate, but that is not the whole story. Buried deep within it and in the annexe was some very serious criticism of the Blair government, particularly its kitchen style of cabinet away from the normal controlling and stabilising effects of the civil service. It is quite clear that there was enough in all this to force resignations, if the ruling class felt they had an alternative. The reason they are sticking with this Labour government is not lack of ability in the other parties. The problem Britain faces is this: it is a declining second rate power trying to defend its national interest around the globe; and in doing so it has to maintain as much independence as it can from the world's one remaining superpower, without falling into the orbit of its traditional rival, Germany, and its French ally. To have its troops on the ground, to avoid exclusion from Afghanistan and Iraq, it has to maintain its 'special relationship' with the US, but this is a very one-sided relationship in which all Britain's suggestions on the Middle East and the Palestinians, on using the UN, and so on, have been politely ignored. Yet the alternative of falling in with European anti-Americanism to gain independence from the USA is not an option since this would mean it could no longer oppose a German dominated Europe. If Labour cannot successfully maintain Britain's independence from these two stronger powers, the Tories would face greater difficulties due to the greater weight in their ranks of pro-American factions (such as Thatcher). That, not the 'good faith' of government and secret services, is why Butler found no-one to blame.

Alex 4/9/04.


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